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A TASTE FOR DEVOTION.
PSALM lxiii. 5, 6.
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips: when I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate upon thee in the night-watches.
Ir is a felicity to be acquainted with the arguments which forcibly attach us to religion. It is a great advantage to be able to arrange, with conclusive propriety, the arguments which render virtue preferable to vice. It is a high favour to be able to proceed from principle to principle, and from consequence to consequence, so as to say in one's own breast, with a conscious mind of the excellence of piety, I am persuaded that a good man is happy.
But how sublime soever this way of soaring to God may be, it is not always sufficient. Arguments may indeed impose silence on the passions; but they are not always sufficiently cogent to eradicate them. However conclusive demonstrations may be in a book, in a school, in the closet, they appear extremely weak, and of very inadequate force, when opposed to sentiments of anguish, or to the attractions of pleasure. The arguments adduced to suffer for religion, lose much of their efficacy, not to say of their evidence, when proposed to a man about to be broken alive on the wheel, or consumed on a pile. The arguments for resisting the flesh; for rising superior to matter and sense, vanish, for the most part, on viewing the objects of concupiscence. How worthy then is that man of pity who knows no way of approaching God, but that of discussion and argument!
There is one way of leading us to God much more safe; and of inducing to abide in fellowship with him, whenever it is embraced; that is, the way of taste and of sentiment. Happy the man, who, in the conflicts to which he is exposed from the enemy of his soul, can oppose pleasure to pleasure, and joy to joy; the pleasures of piety and of converse with Heaven to the pleasure of the world; the delights of recollection and solitude to those of brilliant circles, of dissipations, and of theatres! Such a man is firm in his duty, because he is a man; and because it depends not on man to refuse affection to what opens to his soul the fountains of life. Such a man is attached to religion by the same motives which attach the world to the objects of their passions, which afford them exquisite delight. Such a man has support in the time of temptation, because "the peace of God which passeth all understanding, keeps," so to speak, the propensities of his heart, and the divine comforts which inundate his soul, obstructs his being drawn away to sin.
convinced; but that religion charmed, ravished, and absorbed his soul by its comforts. "My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my soul shall praise thee with joyful lips; when I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate upon thee in the night-watches."-In discussing the subject,
I. We shall trace the emotions of our prophet, and to give you the ideas, if it be possible to give them, of what we understand by the piety of taste and sentiment.
II. We shall consider the words with regard to the humiliation they reflect on the most part of Christians; and inquire into the judgment we ought to form of our own state, when destitute of the piety of sentiment and taste, so consoling to a regenerate soul.
III. We shall investigate the cause of this calamity.
IV. We shall propose some maxims for the acquisition of this piety, the want of which is so deplorable; and to enable you to say with David, "My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my soul shall praise thee with joyful lips, when I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate upon thee in the night-watches."
Let us attend to-day to a great master in the science of salvation. It is our prophet. He knew the argumentative way of coming to God. "Thy word," said he to himself, "is a lamp unto my feet, and a lantern to my paths," Ps. cxix. 105. But he knew also the way of taste and of sentiment. He said to God in the words of my text, not only that he was persuaded and
I. We must define what we understand by the piety of taste and sentiment. Wishful to compress the subject, we shall not oppose profanation to eminent piety, nor apparent piety to that which is genuine. We shall oppose reality to reality; true piety to true piety; and the religion of the heart to that which is rational and argumentative. A few examples, derived from human life, will illustrate this article of religion.
Suppose two pupils of a philosopher, both emulous to make a proficiency in science; both attentive to the maxims of their master; both surmounting the greatest difficulties to retain a permanent impression of what they hear. But the one finds study a fatigue like the man tottering under a burden: to him study is a severe and arduous task: he hears because he is obliged to hear what is dictated. The other, on the contrary, enters into the spirit of study; its pains are compensated by its pleasures: he loves truth for the sake of truth; and not for the sake of the encomiums conferred on literary characters, and the preceptors of science.
Take another example. The case of two warriors, both loyal to their sovereign; both alert and vigilant in military discipline, which, of all others, requires the greatest vigilance and precision; both ready to sacrifice life when duty shall so require; but the one groans under the heavy fatigues he endures, and sighis for repose: his imagination is struck with the danger to which he is exposed by his honour: he braves dangers, because he is obliged to brave them, and because God will require an account of the public safety of those who may have had the baseness to sacrifice it to personal preservation: yet amid triumphs he envies the lot of the cottager, who having held the plough by day, finds the rewards at night of domestic repose. The other, on the contrary, is born with an insatiable thirst of glory, to which nothing can be arduous: he has by nature, that noble courage, shall I call it, or that happy temerity; that amid the greatest danger, he sees no dan
ger; victory is ever before his eyes; and every step that leads to conquest is regarded as a vietory already obtained.
These examples are more than sufficient to confirm your ideas, and make you perceive the vast distinction we make between a speculative and an experimental piety, and to enable you in some sort to trace the sentiments of our prophet, "My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my soul shall praise thee with joyful lips; when I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate upon thee in the nightwatches." He who has a rational and a speculative piety, and he who has a piety of taste and sentiment, are both sincere in their efforts; both devoted to their duty; both pure in purpose; both in some sort pleasing to God; and both alike engaged in studying his precepts, and in reducing them to practice; but O, how different is their state!
The one prays because he is awed by his wants, and because prayer is the resource of the wretched. The other prays because the exercise of prayer transports him to another world; because it vanishes the objects which obstruct his divine reflections; and because it strengthens those ties which unite him to that God, whose love constitutes all his consolation, and all his treasure.
The one reads the word of God because his heart would reproach him for neglecting a duty so strongly enjoined, and because without the Bible he would be embarrassed at every step. The other reads because his heart burns when ever the Scriptures are opened; and because this word composes his mind, assuages his anguish, and beguiles his care.
The one gives alms, because the doors of heaven shall be shut against the unpitiable; because without alins there is no religion; because Jesus Christ shall one day say to those who have been insensible to the wants of others, "Depart ye cursed into everlasting fire, for I was hungry, and ye gave me no meat;" and because the rust of the gold and silver of "the covetous shall be a witness against them, and shall eat their flesh as a fire," Matt. xxv. 41; James v. 3. The other gives because there is a kind of instinct and mechanical impulse, if you will excuse the phrase, which excite in his breast the most delicious sensations in the distribution of alms: he gives because his soul is formed on the model of that God, whose character is love, "who left not himself without witness, in that he did good," and whose happiness consists in the power of imparting that felicity to others.
The one approaches the Lord's table, because the supreme wisdom has enjoined it; he subdues his passions because the sacrifice is required; in resuming his heart from the objects of vice, he seems to abscind his own flesh; it would seem requisite always to repeat in his ears this text, "He that eateth this bread, and drinketh this cup unworthily, eateth and drinketh his own condemnation." The other comes to the Lord's table as to a feast; he brings a heart hungering and thirsting for righteousness; he inwardly hears the gentle voice of God, saying, "Seek ye my face:" he replies, "Thy face, Lord, I will seek. As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after VOL. II.-49
thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, yea, for the living God," Ps. xxvii. 8; xlii. 1. The delicious sentiments he finds in the communion of Jesus Christ, prompts him to forget all the sacrifices he has made for a participation therein.
In a word, not to multiply cases, the one dies because he must die: he yields to that irrevocable sentence, "Return, ye children of men," Ps. xc. 3. Submission, resignation, and patience, are the pillars which sustain him in his agony. The other, on the contrary, meets death as one who would go to a triumph. He anticipates the happy moment with aspirations, which shall give flight to his soul; he cries, he incessantly cries, "Come Lord Jesus, come quickly." Patience, resignation, submission, seem to him virtues out of season: he exercised them while condemned to live; not when he is called to die. Henceforth his soul abandons itself wholly to joy, to gratitude, and to transports.
II. Let us inquire in the second article what judgment we should pass upon ourselves when destitute of the heartfelt piety we have just described.
There are few subjects in the code of holiness, which require greater precision, and in which we should be more cautious to avoid visionary notions. Some persons regard piety of taste and sentiment so essential to salvation, as to reprobate all those who, as yet, have not attained it. Certain passages of Scripture misconstrued serve as the basis of this opinion. Because the Spirit of God sheds a profusion of consolations on the souls of some believers, it would seem that he must shed it on all. They presume that a Christian must judge of the state of his mind less by the uprightness of his heart, and the purity of his motives, than by the enjoyments, or the privation of certain spiritual comforts. A man shall powerfully wrestle with his passions, be always at war with himself, and make to God the severest sacrifices, yet if we do not feel certain transports, he must be regarded as a reprobate. A man, on the contrary, who shall be less attentive to the conditions of salvation, and less severe towards himself, must, according to the casuists I attack, banish all sorts of doubt and scruple of his salvation, provided he attain to certain transports of ecstacy and joy.
Whatever basis or solidity there may be in one part of the principles which constitute the foundation of this system, there are few that are more dangerous. It often gives occasion to certain ebullitions of passion, of which we have too many examples. It is much easier to warm the imagination than to reform the heart. How often have we seen persons who thought themselves superior to all our instructions, because they flattered themselves with having the Spirit of God for a guide, which inwardly assured them of their pardon and eternal salvation? How often have we seen persons of this description take offence because we doubted of what they presumed was already decided in
*What critic_besides our author gives this turn to these words of Moses! Their glosses are, either return by repentance, or, "Come again as the grass after the scythe, and re-people the earth, after being desolated a thousand years before the flood." J. S.
an effect of our depravity, but a consequence
their breast, by a divine influence and supernatural voice? How often have we seen them reject with high disdain and revolt, strictures of which they were but too worthy? Let us not give place to enthusiasm. Let us ever preserve our judgment. The Spirit of God guides indeed, but he does not blind. I prefer a humility destitute of transports, to transports destitute of humility. The piety of taste and sentiment is certainly the privilege of some regenerate people: it is indeed a disposition of mind to which all the regenerate should aspire; but we must not exclude those that are weak from regeneration.*
But if there is danger of striking on the first rock, there is some danger of striking on the second. Under a plea that one may be saved without the conscious comforts we have described, shall we give ourselves no inquietude about acquiring them? Shall we give our heart, and our warmest affections to the world; and offer to God but an exhausted, a constrained and reluctant obedience? Let us inquire in what case, and what respects we may console ourselves when deprived of conscious comfort; and in what case, and what respects, we ought to mourn when deprived of those divine favours. 1. Abstract and spiritual objects seldom make so deep an impression on the mind as those which are sensible. This is not always
Saurin, in twenty places of his sermons, attacks a
seck it, as the Scriptures do, and as our author fully does
2. The piety of preference and of sacrifice has a peculiar excellence, and may sometimes afford encouraging marks of salvation, though unaccompanied with the piety of sentiment and taste. You do not find the same vivacity in prayer that you once found in public diversions, but you prefer prayer to those diversions, and you sacrifice them for the sake of prayer. You do not find the same pleasure in reading books of piety you felt in reading profane books, but you sacrifice profane reading for books of devotion. You have not the same pleasure in the contemplation of death as in the prospects of life, but on being called on to die, you prefer death both to health and life. You uniformly surrender your health and your life to the pleasure of Heaven on being called to the crisis. You would not ransom, by the slightest violation of the divine law, this life and health, how dear soever they may be to you.
Console yourselves, therefore, with the testimony of a good conscience. Be assured that you are sincere in the sight of God; and that while aspiring at perfection, your sincerity shall be a substitute for perfection.
3. The holy Scriptures abound with passages
which promise salvation to those who use endeavours; to those "who take up the cross;" to those "who deny themselves;" to those "who crucify the flesh with its lusts;" to those "who strive, or agonize to enter in at the strait gate," Matt. xvi. 24; vii. 13; Gal. v. 24. But the Scriptures no where exclude from salvation those who do not find in the exercise of piety, the joy, the transports, and the delights of which we have spoken.
4. Experience sometimes discovers to us characters whose whole life has been a continual exercise of piety and devotion; characters who have forsaken all for Christ, and who have not as yet attained to the blessed state after which they breathe, and continually aspire.
5. The greatest of saints, and those whom the Scriptures set before us as models, and those even who have known the highest delights of piety, have not always been in this happy state. We have seen them, not only after great falls, but under certain conflicts, deprived of those sweet regards which had once shed such abundant joy into their soul. One may, therefore, be in a state of grace without a full experience of the consolations of grace.
6. In short, the hope of one day finding the piety of taste and sentiment should assuage the anguish which the privation excites in the soul. God often confers piety of taste and sentiment as a recompense for the piety of sacrifice and preference. We have no need to go and seek those comforts in the miraculous lives, whose memory is preserved by the Holy Ghost, nor in the supernatural endowments conferred on others. If you except certain miracles which God once performed for the confirmation of religion, and religion being established, they are now no longer necessary; God still holds the same conduct with regard to his saints which he formerly held. We have seen saints who have long, and with ineffectual sighs, breathed after the comforts of the Holy Ghost; and who, in the issue, have experienced all their sweetness. We have seen the sick, who having been alarmed at the idea of dying, who having sighed at the simple idea of its pains, its anguish, its separation, its obscurity, and all the appalling presages excited by the king of terrors: we have seen them, previous to his approach, quite inundated with consolation and joy. I know we must always suspect the reveries of the imagination, but it seems to us, that the more calm we were in our investigation, precaution, and even distrust, in the scrutiny of this phenomenon, the more we were convinced it ought to be wholly ascribed to the Spirit of God. Those transformations were not the effect of any novel effort we had caused to be excited in the souls of the sick. They sometimes followed a profound stupor, a total lethargy, which could not be the effect of any pleasure arising from some new sacrifice made for God, or from some recent victory over themselves. The sick, of whom we speak, seem to have previously cherished all imaginable deference for our ministry. Nothing human, nothing terrestrial was apparent in those surprising transformations. It was the work of God. Let us ask that we may receive. If he do not answer the first time we pray, he answers the second: if he do not open the door of mercy the second
A TASTE FOR DEVOTION.
time we knock, he opens the third. Suffer not thyself then, O my soul, to be depressed and discouraged, because thou dost not yet participate in the piety of taste and sentiment. Be determined to pierce the cloud with which God conceals himself from thy sight. Though he say to thee as to Jacob, "Let me go for the day dawneth," answer like the patriarch, Lord, I will not let thee go, except thou bless feigned to leave the two disciples, constrain me." Though he affect to leave thee, as he hin as they did; and say with them, "Lord stay with me; it is toward evening: the sun is on the decline," Gen. xxxii. 26; Luke xxiv. 29.
These are the principal sources of consoladesire to please God, and who have not yet attion to those who have a sincere and vehement tained the piety of taste and sentiment. But though the privation of those comforts should not dispirit us, yet the defect is ever a most humiliating and deplorable consideration. So you may conclude from what you have just heard. Yes, it is very humiliating and deplorable, though we should even prefer our duty to our pleasure, when those duties abound with when we are merely enabled to repel attacks difficulties, and afford no consolations; and from the pleasures of the age with reason and argument, which persuade, it is true, but they stop in the tender part of the soul, if I may so speak, and neither warm the imagination nor captivate the heart. Yes, it is very humiliating and deplorable to know by description only, that "peace of God; that joy unspeakable and full of glory; that white stone; that satisfaction; that seal of redemption;" and those everravishing pleasures, of which our Scriptures give us so grand a view. Yes, it is very humiliating and deplorable that we should resemble the Scripture characters, only in the drought and languor they sometimes felt, and always aspiring after a happier frame which we never attain.
fort should not only humble us, but there are Farther still: the privation of divine comoccasions in which it should induce us to pass severe strictures on our destiny. There are especially two such cases of this nature.
conviction of duty, and the motives of hope 1. When the privation is general; when a and fear, are ever requisite to enforce the exercises of religion; when we have to force ourselves to read God's word, to pray, to study his perfections, and to participate of the pledges of his love in the holy sacrament. It is not very likely that a regenerate soul should be always abandoned to the difficulties and duties imposed by religion, that it should never experience those comforts conferred by the Holy Spirit, which make them a delight.
induce us to pass severe strictures on ourselves, 2. The privation of divine comforts should when we do not make the required efforts to be delivered from so sad a state. To possess a virtue, or not to possess it, to have a defect, or not to have it, is not always the criterion of distinction between the regenerate man, and him who has but the name and appearance of regeneration. To make serious efforts to acquire the virtues we have not yet attained, and to use endeavours to correct the faults to which we are still liable, is a true character of
regeneration. But to see those faults with in- | their ease, their sensuality, their effeminacy, difference; and under a plea of constitutional to high notions, to ambition, and the love of weakness, not to subdue them, is a distinguish-glory. And how often have the heroes theining mark of an unregenerate state. Thus it is selves sacrificed all their laurels, their reputaapparent, that though the privation of the tion and their trophies, to the charm of some piety of taste and sentiment be not always sensible pleasure? How often have the charms criminal, it is always an imperfection; and that of a Delilah stopped the victories of a Samson; alone should prompt us to reform it. I will and a Cleopatra those of a Cesar and a Mark suggest to you the remedies of this evil, after Antony? having in the third place traced the causes which produce it.
III. To accomplish my purpose, and to exhibit the true causes which deprive us of the piety of taste and sentiment, we shall make a short digression on the nature of taste and sentiment in general; we shall trace to the source certain sympathies and antipathies which tyrannize over us without our having apparently contributed to the domination.
The task we here impose on ourselves, is a difficult one. We proceed under a conscious need of indulgence in what we propose. The causes of our inclinations and aversions are, apparently, one of the most intricate studies of nature. There is something it would seem, in the essence of our souls, which inclines us to certain objects, and which revolts us against others, when we are unconscious of the cause, and sometimes even against the most obvious reasons. The Creator has obviously given a certain impulse to our propensities, which it is not in our power to divert. Scarcely do the dawnings of genius appear in children, before we see them biassed by peculiar propensities. Hence the diversity, and the singularity of taste apparent in mankind. One has a taste for navigation, another for trades of the most grovelling kind. Virtue and vice have also their scale in the objects of our choice. One is impelled to this vice; another to a vice of the opposite kind. One is impelled to a certain virtue, another to a different virtue. And who can explain the cause of this variety, or prescribe a remedy for the evil, after having developed the cause?
But how impenetrable soever this subject may appear, it is not altogether impossible, at least in a partial way, to develop it. The series of propositions we proceed to establish, shall be directed to that end. But we ask beforehand your indulgence, that in case we throw not on the subject all the light you would wish, do not attribute the defect to this discourse, which may probably proceed from the difficulty of the subject, and probably from the slight attention our hearers pay to truths which have the greatest influence on life and happiness.
Proposition first. We have already intimated, that a sensible object naturally makes a deeper impression on men, than an object which is abstract, spiritual, and remote. This is but too much realized by our irregular passions. A passion which controls the senses is commonly more powerful than those which are seated in the mind; ambition and the love of glory are chiefly resident in the mind; whereas, effeminacy and sensuality have their principal seat in the senses. Passions of the latter kind do more violence to the society than others. With the exception of those called heroes in the world, mankind seldom sacrifice
Proposition second. The imagination captivates both the senses and the understanding. A good which is not sensible; a good even which has no existence, is contemplated as a reality, provided it have the decorations proper to strike the imagination. The features and complexion of a person do not prove that a connexion formed with her would be agreeable and happy. Meanwhile, how often have those features and tints produced a prejudice of that kind? Nothing is often more insipid than the pleasure found in conversation with the great. At the same time, nothing commonly appears so enviable. And why? Be cause the splendour attendant on this intercourse strikes the imagination. The retinues which follow them; the splendour of their carriages; the mansions in which they live; the multitude of people who flatter and adore them; all these are strikingly qualified to make an impression on the imagination, which supersedes the operations of sense, and the convictions of the mind.
Proposition third. A present, or at least, an approximate good, excites, for the most part, more vehement desires, than a good which is absent, or whose enjoyment is deferred to a remote period. The point where the edge of the passions is blunted, almost without exception, is, when they have to seek their object in distant epochs, and in future years.
Proposition fourth. Recollection is a substitute for presence: I would say, that a good in the possession of which we have found delight, produces in the heart, though absent, much the same desires, as that which is actually present.
Proposition fifth. A good, ascertained and fully known by experience, is much more capable of inflaming our desires, than a good of which we have but an imperfect notion, and which is known only by the report of others. A person endowed with good accomplishments, and whose conversation we have enjoyed, is more endeared to us than one known only by character; though the virtues of the latter have been represented as far surpassing the virtues of the other.
A sixth proposition is, that all things being equal, we prefer a good of easy acquisition, to one which requires care and fatigue. Difficulty sometimes, I grant, inflames desire, and seduces the imagination. When we have a high opinion of a good, which we believe is in our power to acquire by incessant endeavours, our ardours become invigorated, and we redouble our efforts in proportion as the difficulty augments. It is, however, an indisputable axiom, and founded on the nature of the human mind, that things being equal, we prefer a good of easy acquisition, to one that requires anxiety and fatigue.
A seventh proposition is, that a good beyond